WWCTD? (What Would Coach Taylor Do?)- 5 lessons start-ups can learn from Friday Night Lights

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the outstanding TV series Friday Night Lights you should “rush” to do so before it is relegated to the Netflix queue of cancelled shows. By far one for the best programs on television, each episode plays like a 2 hour movie complete with rich characters, complex, intertwining plot lines and action packed sports finales accompanied by swelling music and exceptional camera work. The centerpiece of the show, the small-town Taylor family, is headed up by high school football coach Eric Taylor.  Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler) is a straight shooting, yet sympathetic  “football evangelical” who has to balance the challenge of building a strong group of well-rounded young men growing up in less than ideal conditions with winning football games. Taylor (per some excellent script work by the show’s writers) seems to always be able to do both, while maintaining an incredible amount of integrity. He wins and he wins with his morals intact.

There are good number of parallels between Taylor’s East Dillon Lions and a tech start-up, and I have found that there us much to learn from the Coach. A few bits of wisdom:

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”

The team’s mantra. There are many distractions in a start-up. Making sure that you stay focused on your key goal, and doing so with the greatest level of personal commitment possible is essential for start-up success.

“Don’t quit on me. Don’t quit on yourself”

Coach Taylor’s famous quote hits home with many in the start-up world. Building a business is hard. There are many more downs than ups. Embedding a sense of shared success (and sacrifice) helps the team avoid the attraction of  seeking seemingly greener pastures when times get tough.

Treat everyone like they could score the winning touchdown.

Because they can. From the most senior sales executive to the entry-level account manager, everyone on the team has the ability to become a star.

Don’t dwell on your losses . . . or your wins.

Like football teams, start-ups tend to make too much of big losses as well as big wins. Unless the lost deal or missed deadline will cripple the company, it is best to analyze, learn from the mistake and move on. Dwelling on it can have the same psychological impact that losing streak in sports has – a downward spiral in self-confidence that will begin to show to your partners, prospects, and competitors. The same thing goes on the “wins” side. You are only as god as your next game (or deal). Celebrate the victory, study what you did well and try to replicate it again. Don’t assume that things will be smooth sailing because of one great win, because there is always another team out there looking to break their (or your) streak.

Come clean with your mistakes.

Even the best of Coaches (or CEOs) make mistakes. Whether it is calling the wrong play on the field or building a product that flops, it is critical to admit your mistakes openly to the team, acknowledging how you will change and move on. Doing so earns respect and encourages the same type of behavior amongst the rest of your leadership team – which is critical in small businesses that are human capital-intensive.

Whether it’s “Lombardi” on Broadway, or the movie “Rudy”, the use of sports to draw performance analogies to many of life’s endeavors has always been around. And, there is no lack of Business “self help” books that I am sure can provide more directed and specific start-up advice. But for a dose of small business wisdom that goes down smooth as a West Texas breeze, you can learn a lot from a little football show on Friday nights.

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